Texas Stories That We Wish Were April Fools' Jokes
...if only this were an April Fools' joke...
You've probably already had your fair share of fake news and bogus announcements today.
The problem is, some of these little lighthearted hoaxes don't seem that far removed from reality. A Republican-authored bill in the Lege requiring "Hymen Inspections"? Totally false (yet somewhat believable). New Land Commissioner George P. Bush's war on comic sans? Probably a joke. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller declaring "cupcake amnesty"? Believe it or not, that one was real.
In that spirit, here are some totally real news stories (or people) we really wish were April Fools' jokes:
Life in prison for pot brownies
Potter County Sheriff's Office
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Last month, a Potter County sheriff's deputy pulled over a 2014 Kia Soul for a routine traffic violation. Thinking the 30-year-old driver, Eli Manna, and his 27-year-old passenger, Andrew George, were acting "suspicious," the deputy asked to search the vehicle. Manna refused, so the deputy called out a DPS trooper with drug-sniffing dog that ultimately found about a half-dozen pot brownies and a "user amount of marijuana."
Due to Texas's nonsensical drug laws, however, the two men have been charged with "Possession of Controlled Substance penalty group 2, over 400 grams," according to the sheriff's office, a first degree felony that carries a prison term of up to 99 years. If convicted, these guys could go to prison for the rest of their lives over a pound and a half of pot brownies.
That's because, under Texas law, the brownie mix, eggs, butter, or anything else you cook into your pot brownies essentially become drugs as soon as they touch marijuana or any form of marijuana concentrate. Unfortunately for Manna and George, in Texas charges related to edibles are not decided by the amount of actual marijuana or hash oil baked into the goods, but rather the weight of the total item -- in this case, one and a half pounds.
This isn't the first time in recent memory a Texan has faced the prospect of life in prison for marijuana edibles. And it probably won't be the last, either, until the legislature finally reforms the state's marijuana laws, which polls show the majority of Texas citizens actually support. The Marijuana Policy Project has more on pot reform laws that are before the legislature this session.
This first-term Republican state rep from Belton made a bright, bigoted splash right out the gate this legislative session, alienating the state's Muslim community on what just so happened to be Texas Capitol Muslim Day.
The event, organized by the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was intended to give people from the Muslim community a chance to watch the democratic process in action and learn about how to advocate for issues that are important to them. Sounds benign, right? Not for White.
In addition to leaving a conspicuous Israeli flag on the reception desk in her office, White told her staffers to ask any Muslims they encountered to pledge allegiance to America and renounce terrorism. Here's what she wrote on her Facebook page:
"I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws. We will see how long they stay in my office."
And what kind of legislating have we seen out of White's office? Her House Bill 2553 would amend the Texas Business and Commerce code so that private businesses could refuse to serve people based on religious or "conscientious grounds," a virtual carte blanche for businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals and families. White's flat-out delusional HB 2555 seeks to nullify any U.S. Supreme Court ruling that grants same-sex couples the right to marry, amending Texas law to explicitly state that the ban on gay marriage would "apply regardless of whether a federal court ruling or other federal law provides that a prohibition against the creation or recognition of a same-sex marriage or a civil union is not permitted under the United States Constitution."
And here's the icing on the crazy cake. Apparently a student of the Glenn Beck school of public policy, White filed HB 1654, which would cut off state and local funding to any organization "accredited by the United Nations to implement a policy that originated in the Agenda 21 plan."
A rather innocuous plan signed by President George H.W. Bush and more than 100 other countries, Agenda 21 is a non-binding development plan that includes recommendations to conserve public lands, tackle air pollution, build sustainably, combat poverty, recognize the rights of indigenous groups and strengthen the voices of women across the globe.
The idea that Agenda 21 is a far-reaching plot for the U.N. to seize control and create a "one-world order" has been the stuff of conspiracy theory message boards for years, but not paranoid right-wing public policy. Until now, that is.
The anti-LGBT contingent in the Texas Legislature came out guns blazing this session. From Rep. Debbie Riddle's bill criminalizing transgender people for using their restroom of choice to Rep. Cecil Bell's bill making it so that local or state government employees can't recognize or grant same-sex marriage licenses, a raft of anti-LGBT proposals made it in before the window for filing bills closed last month.
Perhaps conservative lawmakers have read the writing on the wall, realizing this might be the last time they can file such legislation with a straight face. Even as the Texas case challenging the state's ban on gay marriage has stalled in the federal Fifth Circuit appeals court, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to take up the issue in June, deciding once and for all whether same-sex couples across the whole country have the right to marry. Advocates and some legal analysts say odds are good that SCOTUS will come down on the side of marriage equality, and that same-sex marriage will soon become legal in Texas, regardless of what conservative lawmakers here want.
So what's a newly-minted Attorney General to do? If you're Ken Paxton, you just make life harder for gay couples in the meantime, that's what you do. In addition to fighting to revoke the state's one and only same-sex marriage license, which a Travis County judge granted to a terminally ill woman and her longtime partner earlier this year, Paxton last week sued the federal government over changes the feds made to cover married gay couples under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
In line with a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the U.S. Department of Labor essentially changed its definition of the word "spouse" as applied to FMLA in order to cover same-sex couples who married in any state. That means Texas couple who married in other states would now be eligible for unpaid, job-protected leave to care for their sick spouse if they work for an employee or business covered by FMLA.
It's something Paxton just couldn't stand for. In announcing his lawsuit last week, Paxton wrote this in a statement:
"Texans have clearly defined the institution of marriage in our state, and attempts by the Obama Administration to disregard the will of our citizens through the use of new federal rules is unconstitutional and an affront to the foundations of federalism."
Abstinence-only sex ed trumps HIV/STI prevention
We truly thought this one was an early April Fools' day joke when we first saw the headlines.
Texas boasts the dubious honor of having some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and HIV infections in the country. Yet hours into a marathon budget session in the House yesterday, lawmakers, largely along party lines, passed an amendment cutting some $3 million from HIV/STI prevention programs, instead diverting that money to boost funding for abstinence-only sex education programs.
In a floor debate that quickly descended into absurdity, GOP Rep. Stuart Spitzer, who authored the amendment, argued that abstinence is the best way to prevent HIV, saying, "My goal is for everyone to be HIV/AIDS free." As proof of the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex ed, Spitzer offered up his own sexual history: a virgin until marrying his wife at age 29. "I've only had sex with one woman in my life, and that's my wife."
There you have it. Because a Republican from Kaufman didn't get laid until he was 29, programs to prevent the spread of HIV could soon take a $3 million hit.